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SAN SEBASTIAN 2023 Competition

Review: Sultana’s Dream


- Isabel Herguera presents a unique and fascinating feminist animated film about the search for freedom and the transformative power of fiction

Review: Sultana’s Dream

"I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eleven years old. My father had not arrived and the shadows of the night fell over the park. Some distance away, a man was watching me closely. I felt his cold, calculating gaze and my heart stopped. (…). It was the first time I experienced fear as a woman. With this tale of terror in the voice of the protagonist Sultana’s Dream [+see also:
interview: Isabel Herguera
film profile
begins, the first European animated film presented in competition at the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival, directed by Isabel Herguera, written together with Gianmarco Serra and loosely based on the Indian feminist tale by the Muslim writer and activist Begum Rokeya Hossain

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The film tells the story of Inés, a young Spanish animation director who travels to India to end her relationship with her Indian lover. There she happens to enter a bookshop where she is recommended Rokeya Hossain's story about a utopian country ruled by women. Fascinated by this imaginary world and the courageous and transgressive attitude of its author, Inés decides to make a film where her personal story and that of Begum Rokeya will run parallel. From this plot, as its beginning anticipates, Sultana’s Dream discusses women in the world of yesterday and today, about how things have changed but not that much, about fear, humiliation, silence, submission and social stigmas of being a woman. The film reflects the perpetual gender inequality that is so present in our lives and societies (also implicitly), but, above all, to also envisage the possibility of change, of radically changing this reality through imagination. Recapturing the popular Indian tale, Herguera affirms the transformative power of dreams, the value of fantasy as a critical thinking tool, the possibility of a world governed by intelligence and not by force.

This depth that Sultana’s Dream addresses is interesting and important, and has a beautiful and considerable didactic value, but what shines the most is the form. The film distinguishes itself in the way Herguera and her team tell this story of domination and transformation. With wit and a certain ironic humour, through original and fascinating visual and sound materials, symbolic colours, images, music and sounds that evoke the depth of the film, they recreate the dreamlike world of Begum Rokeya's story and build a whole imaginary full of new ideas, spaces, landscapes and characters. One of the standouts in this fantasy created by Herguera are the voices narrating the story, from that of the protagonist herself to that of Mary Beard recounting the first documented example of male domination in the Western literary tradition (immortalised at the beginning of the Odyssey) and that of Paul B. Preciado defending the power of dreams.

Sultana’s Dream is a film with personality, of extraordinary audiovisual strength. It is a beautiful and unique film about the search for freedom, where the fantasy itself affirms the transforming power of fiction, and with it, of cinema as a representation of dreams. A film that will most certainly deserve to be remembered in Spanish animation.

Sultana’s Dream is a production from the Spanish companies Sultana Films, El Gatoverde Producciones, Abano Producións and Uniko, and the German company Fabian&Fred GMBH. International sales are managed by the Austrian company Square Eyes.

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(Translated from Spanish by Vicky York)

Photogallery 24/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - Sultana's Dream

14 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

© 2023 Dario Caruso for Cineuropa -, Dario Caruso

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